Shredded Wheat Remains Simple in a Time of Complication

May 6, 2009
Ralcorp’s deadpan Shredded Wheat promotion puts it back in the fight.

First off, I was happy to see Ralcorp buy the Post cereals business last year from Kraft Foods. Ralcorp holds a special place in my heart because it was, I think, the first company I visited when I started writing about food & beverage issues many years ago.

At the time it was Ralston Foods, having just been spun off from Ralston Purina. While it always had a strong private label business, the company eventually went overwhelmingly into private label after selling its branded cereals to General Mills in 1997 (the only brand it kept was Ry-Krisp crackers).

As much as we promote innovation in these pages, there’s always room for the tried and true, the products that have been around for a generation or three without major changes. And there’s a whole movement under way toward minimal numbers of ingredients.

While those things describe many of the cereals, especially Chex, that Ralcorp sold to General Mills, that’s also the case with some of the brands Ralcorp acquired in the Post cereals purchase.


In April, the company announced a new advertising campaign for Post Shredded Wheat, which promotes the product’s lack of change as a virtue. “We Put the ‘No’ in Innovation,” touts the program, developed by Ogilvy. No antioxidants, superfruits or cholesterol-lowering added ingredients here, and no worries about which side of the high-fructose corn syrup debate to be on.

If space allows, I’d like to include the entire ingredient list off the Post Shredded Wheat Nutrition Facts panel:

+ “Whole grain wheat.”

That’s it, one ingredient. Oh, and a little “BHT is added to the packaging material” — not the cereal itself — to preserve flavor.

The ad campaign emphasizes that the cereal has been made with “one simple, honest ingredient” since 1892 “and I want to keep it that way,” says the fictional CEO of the company in a humorous video posted on YouTube.

While five video episodes are promoted on the site, at this point only the first one is available. But it’s a gem. A general introduction to the site greets you with the headline “Progress is Overrated.” It explains:

“The world has progressed at lightning speed over the past 100 years. To a fault, one could argue in light of the times. So, it’s both oddly funny and fascinating to consider that Post Original Shredded Wheat, which has used the same single ingredient for over 100 years, ends up being one of the healthiest foods on your grocery shelf.”

There’s a lot of feeling that overly fast-paced change and needless layers of embellishment got us into this whole economic mess, so this campaign may be hitting at just the right time.

“The U.S. consumer has been undergoing a metamorphosis, shedding the skin of conspicuous consumption and revealing the need for security and simplicity in this time of economic and societal upheaval,” Kelley Peters, director of integrated insights and strategy for Post Foods, told me. “Post Shredded Wheat taps this cultural movement with its simple, honest ingredient.”

The campaign consists of newspaper and magazine print ads, 30- and 60-second television spots and web advertising.

Of course, the irony here is that Ralcorp’s campaign on lack of innovation is itself very innovative. This throwback to yesteryear is so very today.

So, belated congratulations, Ralcorp, on the Post cereals purchase. It’s good to have you back in the branded game. If this new Shredded Wheat campaign is any indication, you’re going to make it fun.

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